It is not a secret that I’m not a fan of Social Media of any description, but the one platform I used daily for 15 years was the professional networking site LinkedIn. Initially signing up in 2006 and, over time, cultivating my profile and connections like a well-manicured garden, I felt LinkedIn was a solid foundation upon which to build my online presence.
Over the past few years and the last 12 months, that well-manicured garden has all but died. My virtual plants are in a state of despair despite my best efforts to maintain them. It is too easy to blame me for not generating relevant content, not actively participating in discussions, or interacting with specific groups, yet I believe there is more at play.
I built a small base of connections, numbering just over 4,000, many of whom I interacted with daily. While I never secured employment directly from LinkedIn, my profile undoubtedly helped. The same opinion applies to increasing opportunities with my employer by promoting what we offered and providing countless volumes of relevant content.
I feel like I’ve disappeared into the background of LinkedIn, with my content relegated to the most obscure corners of the platform. Once highly visible, my posts appear only to those who actively seek them. Even the numbers of people looking for my content are diminishing because their interaction with LinkedIn is changing just like mine. I feel as though a professional networking platform intended to bring us closer together instead drives us further apart with the wedges consisting of irrelevant content and unrelated connections.
If I was not on LinkedIn daily (and several times daily at that) and had not regularly shared my articles and created posts, I may understand. If I had not interacted with my connections by commenting on their posts and messaging them directly, I would appreciate why I wasn’t getting value. If I had not made LinkedIn my first stop during my working day, falling by the wayside makes sense, but none of these things happened. Quite the opposite. I could safely call myself a heavy user of the platform.
I used relevant role titles, updated my skills regularly, made sure the times and dates of my experiences aligned perfectly with my resume and cultivated meaningful role descriptions for every position held. I maintained my certifications, reviewed the groups I belonged to and culled the “influencers” I followed to only those who either had meaning or provided helpful content. Over time, I watched the interactions with connections fall in stark contrast to the degree I contributed to LinkedIn.
As it stands, my LinkedIn profile is a skeleton of its former self, like a corpse awaiting burial. But I’m not ready to give up just yet.
Indeed it is my fault, right?
Being guilty of overthinking, I wondered if I was sharing too much and posting too often, causing people to tune out. Articles that once received hundreds of views and shared dwindled to nothing, making me question if my content was relevant despite others sharing similar material. Simple yet thought-provoking posts and questions that once accrued hundreds of responses, comments, and direct messages became non-existent. I asked myself, “what am I doing wrong?”
The answer is simple and complex simultaneously. What am I doing wrong? Nothing in principle, but I am not playing the algorithm game correctly. What those algorithms are and how they work is a subjective mystery, yet “influencers” seem to have it figured out. Herein lies the problem: I am not an influencer. My stock and trade are not based on views, shares, likes, and comments but instead on creating and sharing meaningful content that genuinely helps individuals and businesses alike. Cybersecurity, my bread and butter, is highly complex and badly misunderstood. At times, what cyber means to anyone can vary as widely as the people who propose being experts in the field.
The truth appears to be that trying to create relevant content and be applicable on LinkedIn makes me both irrelevant and seemingly out of touch. Most of my content is text-based; traction now comes from publishing on Medium and contributing to relevant publications. I was a heavy contributor with the now-defunct Peerlyst, and I’m now seeing the same impact with Medium, although it is a much slower-moving progression.
I usually shy away from discussing how LinkedIn and other platforms like Facebook are blurring together but clearly, what works on one platform slowly seeps into all others. We can safely say that LinkedIn is much more Facebooky than it was just a few years ago. The influence game has spread into the corporate networking site much like a paddock with cows near your childhood home is now packed with suburban homes on lots the size of postage stamps. Not all progress is good, but it is progress, and it depends on your point of view.
Rather than assimilate, I almost chose to move on. Sure, I think other Social Media platforms are brilliant, like LITT, but rather than try to “day trade” attention, I prefer to work on my content than worry about who is consuming it. Yes, we write for our audience, but I know who that is and where they are. I much rather substance over style, function before fashion, and quality over quantity. And I’ll remain on LinkedIn for the time being and keep trying to stand out.
So, who is “winning” the LinkedIn game?
Depending on your perspective, there are a variety of “winners” in the competition for eyeballs and the few joules of energy expended to click a “like” button (or similar). Most people appear to have an attention span as long as it takes to scroll their screen length. I tried to cultivate my news feed over time to be as relevant as possible, only for it to be overrun by “suggestions”, sponsored ads, and things my connections have been interacting with — usually those with the loudest (figuratively) voices. The “winners” of the attention lottery are not always those with the most relevant content or those who share the most, but rather those that know how to capture eyeballs and mouse clicks/screen taps the most efficiently.
We all have preferences, interests, and opinions; I get that. I appreciate a recommendation as much as anyone else, but I don’t appreciate my LinkedIn feed being arbitrarily changed to suit what everyone else wants. Most of my friends like “Game Of Thrones” but I don’t, so it’s as though everything fed me comes from GoT fandom. Social media is notorious for telling us what to think, and those that realise this pseudo-truth are the ones effectively practicing thought control.
Honestly, I think the average calibre of LinkedIn posts has descended to children at Christmas that throw away the toy and play with the box because the fantasy is more attractive than reality. We’re fans of ideas and end products but not so fond of the hard work and dedication that doesn’t make it to the top of your feed. We’ve all seen the glorious moment of a climber triumphantly summiting Mount Everest, but we selectively ignore the weeks, months, and years it took to arrive there. I am a fan of the struggles, trials, and journeys to get somewhere in a roundabout way, but the focus ends up upon those who have already arrived.
Influence, Affluence, or Effluence?
Every day, when I open my news feed on LinkedIn, here is a sample of what I receive.
Connection requests from individuals I don’t know, who seem to have a vague and unrelated background, purporting to have an interest in my employer or myself. This request is rapidly followed by a sales pitch for something unrelated and never responds to personalised messages.
Alerts that one of my connections is in the news / posted something I may be interested in / commented on someone else’s feed. Upon further investigation, none of the content is interesting, relevant, or in some cases, current.
Invitations to join groups, participate in events, or review products and solutions without clear expectations and depend on them being relevant in the first place — which is rarely the case.
Unsolicited job offers unrelated, irrelevant jobs from recruiters who haven’t looked at my profile to ascertain if the role may fit. Top that off with no details on the employer, salary, or future direction of the company and position.
A News Feed That Leaves Me Starving
And then it gets frustrating. Here are the ten types of posts that clog up my newsfeed every day (but don’t take me too seriously; I’m sure you have your top-10 list):
· Endlessly posted, shared, and re-shared infographics that are heavily biased towards a product or company that is somehow better than anything else that came before it. Bright colours, bar graphs, pie charts. Mmmm. Pie.
· “I told you so” posts, usually after a data breach, where the victim could have saved a lot of time, money, and stress “if only” they had purchased the poster’s outstanding products and services. OK, Nostradamus, if you’re so good at predicting data breaches and knowing your product would be the best fit, why are you posting on LinkedIn and not off counting your millions?
· “Look at me” posts, taken at events, exotic locations, or with famous / semi-famous people. These seem to attract a lot of “likes”. Hey! You dropped something! What? A name! Now, go clean up your mess and get back to reality, will you?
· Posts from conferences, seminars, working groups, lunch & learn, power breakfasts, forums, after-work drinks, and more. These people spend more time talking about doing than just doing. Who’s signing your paycheck? Do they have any openings? Where do I send my resume?
· Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) posts. We get it; the world is about to end unless we bow down before you and your magical ability. Bestow upon us your divine wisdom, oh wise and knowledgeable guru of LinkedIn. Save us from ourselves!
· Awards posts. It’s great to receive awards; I understand. Lately, it feels like awards season where we get the Golden Globes, The Grammys, The SAG Awards, the Oscars, and so on. Scroll through LinkedIn, and I wonder who has a big enough trophy cabinet for all this hardware. I know! The business’s reception area still shows an Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 1986 on the main desk! You won’t find any awards on my desk because I need the space to work!
· The exact “inspirational” quotes from the same influencers, reposted, ad nauseam. I don’t need to name names; it’s the same talking heads paying lip service about how they got successful and want to share their knowledge through some sense of altruism. The reason why this knowledge gold is a freebie is that the recipients lack the motivation and dedication needed to put in the hard yards in duplicating the success — but they still pay for it like a car they’ll never drive or might drive “someday”.
· A controversial post with a comment flow that goes like this: Point, Counter-Point, Passive-Aggressive Comment, Personal Attack, Pile-On from Third-Party, Unrelated Comment, and then threats like “I can have you fired / I know your boss / We’ll never do business with your company” and so on. Get your popcorn because there is a new show starting every few seconds.
· A personal post immediately attacked as “this is not news”, or “this is not Facebook”, or other unsupportive and trolling comments.
· A more recent addition is random, meme-like posts congratulating one another for a job well done. These aren’t so bad, but I’d rather you pick up the phone, send me a text, send me an email, or send me a direct message — I may never see a random post thanking me otherwise.
By the way, I created this list with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. Before jumping in (or in social media speak, piling on) to defend LinkedIn, remember that while it might be for you, it’s not quite the platform for me, but it’s still the best one I’m using.
Stay safe out there!
Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions presented on this blog are my own and not those of any associated third party. The content is provided for general information, educational, and entertainment purposes and does not constitute legal advice or recommendations; do not rely upon it as such. Obtain appropriate legal advice in actual situations. All images, unless otherwise credited, are licensed through Shutterstock.